WHY AND HOW OF INDIGENOUS PHILOSOPHIZING IN INDIA
Human beings, in virtue of natural endowments, are capable of philosophizing in their life situations. This natural ability could be perfected and put to better use for enhancing the life of individual as well as communities. It could be done through our conscious efforts towards developing critical and creative abilities of the mind without losing sight of other dimensions of life. Being and becoming human is a gift as well as a task; for, while our human base is given, whatever we become in the course of our existence and development depend upon what we make of our lives. From this perspective, our ability to philosophize is a crucial one. Our becoming primarily depends on the blossoming of our basic human nature, which could be seen in our refinement of thinking and reflecting.
Human beings are endowed with the gift of curiosity. From the angle of promoting philosophizing, we must cater to this curiosity; but in order to have curiosity, first of all, we must be conscious of our own ignorance and cultivate a sense of wonder, both of which seem to be absent in those who are not at all bothered about the reality surrounding them and among those who take everything for granted and are led by the common sense. When our intellectual exercises are properly oriented to the understanding of realities involved in our lives and realities around us, naturally we have a better chance of getting involved. Only when we are involved we would become conscious that there are areas of life and reality that elude us, which would, in turn, generate a sense of ignorance and wonder. The more we desire to know about the things around us, the more we would be involved, and deeper our search would be. Happiness that is derived from any search and research would be proportionate to the investment of ourselves, our time, and energy into such projects.
Philosophizing, to my mind, is a project into which all of us should get involved. Although we are endowed with the ability to philosophize, only a conscious attempt would make it more perfect. Apart from what we learn by ourselves in the given context of life, modern avenues of education present us with a lot of opportunities to sharpen our minds and to enhance our abilities of philosophizing. Though it has been happening from the inception of humanity, the period of systematization, especially from a western point of view, has brought in a shift of emphasis, from philosophizing to philosophy as a finished product, ready to be handed over to others, generation after generation. Due to the powers vested with such systems, and later development of university education, we lost sight of the genuine nature of doing philosophy; it just became the accumulation of knowledge, just as it had to do with any other branch of human learning. Moreover, even when emphasis was given to the activity of philosophizing, it was restricted to getting oneself into the shoes of one or the other system of philosophy that was already established by other stalwarts.
My submission in this essay is the thesis that philosophy must be redeemed from its present state of a finished stock of wisdom, as if it is ready-to-be-used, to its genuine state of an ongoing activity in which everyone has to participate. This participation in the activity of philosophizing may pave the way for an enhanced state of human existence, not through novel discoveries and the most advanced gadgets, but by re-establishing human thinking to its critical and creative operation, rooted in the living milieu of individual and community, without disregarding the age old wisdom that humanity as a whole has bequeathed from its millennia long existence.
2. Towards an Alternate Paradigm in Philosophy
Philosophy, in the minds of philosophers as well as the common folk, is beset with paradoxical expectations. Philosophers, on the one hand, claim that philosophy is the science, the science of sciences as its principles run through the fabric of any other science, although many a scientist would resist such overt claims. For ordinary people, on the other hand, philosophy is too abstract a science, they seldom understand what a philosopher is talking about, and much less do they have any interest in anything branded as professional philosophy. Yet, there is another thought, pioneered in the writings of Plato himself, which claims that philosophy is the perfect human science that leads us to truth, so much so that having a philosopher king would usher in the golden era in any human society. Interestingly, following the injunction of Plato in The Republic (Book 6, 487a), wrote Carel and Gamez, in an introduction to a set of articles on political philosophy:
Vacancy Announcement: Philosopher King (full-time); job reference HC/700/SO
“We invite applications for the post of philosopher king. This is a permanent full-time appointment. Applicant must be over fifty, with a naturally well-proportioned, gracious mind that moves spontaneously towards the truth. Must have good memory, be quick to learn, noble, just, courageous, and well-tempered. Must have prior training in geometry, astronomy, music, arithmetic, dialectic and gymnastics and have at least fifteen years’ experience in public or military office. The Republic is an equal opportunities employer and welcome applications from statistically under-represented groups.”
Though interesting is this job profile, the general public does not seem to be enthusiastic about philosophy and philosophers. Yet, in spite of a lot of misconceptions about philosophy among the public and even among many students of philosophy about what philosophy is all about, I tend to think that the traditional western picture of philosophy, or the wrong understanding that has been imparted to the students of philosophy, is the primary reason for the pitiable status to which philosophy is condemned to stay put. Such a condescending attitude towards philosophy is also attributed to its abstractness and aloofness towards life and its issues, especially in its method and content.
What is philosophy? Who is a philosopher? Are we all qualified to be philosophers? Before I attempt to answer the first question (which will be taken up later in this essay), here I shall address the other questions. The very first philosophers with whom I have come in contact are my own parents, my mom and dad. As I started to taste the first spurt of humanity in terms of feelings and, gradually, thinking, as I started to experience the life and reality around me, the presence and activity of my parents, who had completed only their primary school education, slowly initiated me into the world of philosophy – of course, not into the world of professional philosophy, which would happen much later when I inscribed for an undergraduate course in philosophy at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram in 1985. Though my parents could not complete their formal education and would not have read any author whom we students of philosophy would identify as a philosopher proper, I was blessed to have them as persons who had a consistent, integral and meaningful view and way of life, to which they could unassumingly initiate me. They did not seem to have had any set of finished doctrines to be articulated with verbosity; they did not go around preaching about what they thought right or wrong; they did not even lecture to us, their children, to make us understand how we should think and what we ought to do. Their consistent life, however, was eloquent enough to convey the view of life that they cherished in their life, a view that was open and dynamic to welcome whatever they learned from their daily living that happened mostly in the fields and within the family circle restricted to the neighbourhood of our remote village. As I look back at what had been happening about 40 years ago in my life, during my early stages of development as a young boy, I can clearly see the emergence of my philosophy then and there. The perspective of life and reality that my parents had cherished in their life, which was fundamentally human and Christian in content and outlook, was their philosophy. As it was not a finished product for them, but an ever growing and vibrant understanding that they considered to be fundamental to their human existence, they did not verbally instruct any one to that philosophy, but were certainly capable of elegantly living and nobly bequeathing the same to their offspring.
Every human being, by virtue of humanity, by virtue of human ability to think or to reason, is a philosopher. As most of us share this endowment, no one can exempt himself or herself from the existentiality of being and becoming a philosopher. As we are naturally endowed to exercise the gift of thinking, and as we gradually try to imbibe various dimensions of reality all through our lives, it is possible that we develop an ability to look at life in a particular manner. In the course of life, as we think and act according to the view that we cultivate, it would get settled in the form of a perspective, a specific or particular mode of looking at, understanding, and relating to the reality. It is here we find the emergence of a philosophy, not necessarily as a finished product, as it is hardly articulated through scientifically established categories, as is often done in professional philosophical circles. It, however, presents us with a definitive perspective or approach to life and reality, which, to my mind, constitutes a philosophy.
In my mother tongue, Malayalam, a south Indian modern language, there are at least two expressions that would gracefully express what I understand as philosophy. They are kāzhchapādu and nilapādu. A pādu, literally means a ‘mark’. Taking its wider connotations into account, it would stand for an ‘indelible mark’, usually resulting from repeated conscious or unconscious attempts to make a mark on something. While kāzhcha means ‘sight’, or ‘the ability to see’, nila refers to a ‘stand’ or ‘status’. Thus, kāzhchapādu can be technically identified as a definitive way of looking at something resulting from repeated attempts of looking at it in a particular manner. It does not happen by a single look, as there could be no indelible mark made in the normal course of events by a single stroke, unless it is violently made by a sharp instrument. As it refers to ‘looking at’ something in a particular manner, naturally it results from a view that someone cherishes on life over a long period of time, thus, giving rise to the development of a perspective, as an indelible mark results from constant and repeated processes. The same is the connotation of nilapādu. Normally, we could make a mark on something by standing; but it would become an indelible mark if we could stand in the same position for a long time; instead of repeated markings, nilapādu calls for a firm and permanent stand that we could adopt in approaching life and reality by any given individual or a group of individuals. One thing that interests me in both of these native expressions is their ability to put across the need of philosophy being redeemed from its traditional cliché. It is not right to restrict philosophy exclusively to that which is attempted by the academic and other professional philosophers. While accepting their ability to sharpen arguments and conclusions through perfect logical sequence and categories and to introduce consistency into articulations made in a systematic manner, I would affirm that it is not the only way of understanding philosophy. Philosophy shall not be mistaken for a finished product; that is one of the reasons for the dry and unappealing outfit of philosophy today. We need to redeem philosophy from these misconceptions by way of reinstating it to its natural domain, that is, life, which evolves gradually, and can be known only as it unfolds, about which no one can have a completely perfect and finished theory at any given point in time.
Given this, I propose that the twenty-first century should continue not only to teach and learn philosophy, but must teach and learn to philosophize in the context of life that encompasses all reality. As this process has to be rooted in our living milieu, it is natural that every attempt to philosophize must be indigenous in character. For, philosophizing cannot happen in a vacuum. Therefore, it is the human necessity in India that philosophizing happens in a geographical, cultural, social, political continuum of life within which we can locate everything that we identify as reality. Philosophy would, therefore, be a characteristically new perspective, a way of looking that would be emerging from our native Indian foundations, including all that Indian people have bequeathed from history and all that the Indian reality is, and all that India would unfold in the course of time, but without disregarding the development of human life and thought elsewhere as well.
3. Shift from Philosophy to Philosophizing
There is much controversy among philosophers as to what philosophy is all about. Though professional or academic philosophers attempt to define philosophy as a science of enquiry, we must admit the fact that there is hardly any consensus. Therefore, I do not dare to define what philosophy is or what it should be in order to initiate a deliberation on the process that ultimately takes us to the world of philosophy.
We come across with many philosophers who had identified a unique place for philosophy, but mostly in terms of metaphysics. From Plato and Aristotle onwards this tendency is clearly visible. Although they did deal with many aspects of reality, metaphysics had a prime place, which was easily identified with philosophy. As this tendency continued through many later philosophers, the casualty had been the domain and reach of philosophy itself. It aspired to reach out to those domains that are meta in nature; in effect, philosophy was made out to be something that deals only with that which is beyond the reach of all other sciences. Even in the case of those who technically abandoned classical metaphysics, such as Immanuel Kant, the strategy of abstraction was all the more acute. Although there were advantages in such an approach, especially in justifying its strategy of being distanced and abstract, philosophy finally assumed its somewhat monstrous role or frenetic character which ultimately brought to it only disrepute. Thus, in the process, a discipline and a process which is so intensely human and is accessible to all, got struck up with a few who could just go on theorizing about everything put forth by scientists from other disciplines, thus guaranteeing its meta-character.
Many a time, however, philosophical deliberations ensue from a little reflection upon what is considered to be ‘normal’ or ‘right’ or ‘true’ from a common sense point of view. In our ordinary life situations, when we abide by the common sense we sail through the safe havens of life and thought. As long as we accept the common sense dictums as valid, there is no problem at all. Everything is quite comfortable, as we take most of the things for granted. However, being human does not permit us to remain in such comfort zones for long. The inherent ability of human beings to reflect, to go beyond what is given in the present, to open up the inner recesses of reality either through analysis or synthesis disturbs the assumed finality of knowledge and takes us to the realms of reality, many a time even without our own realization or conscious permission to tread through the disturbed waters.
Philosophy proper is not a finished product, but a process that centres round human thinking. Human mind is such a dynamic faculty that it cannot be categorized into any single pattern, although seldom does it function without patterns. Moreover, the capacity of this faculty to be critical and creative, in its being and operations, implies that dogmatism is a problem than a solution. While dogmatism would provide us with solutions that may be temporarily valid, the unquestioned authority that claims absoluteness to the knowledge claims endorsed in dogmatic formulations would only curtail the human spirit that can never be satisfied with the ready-made solutions, whether they ensued in the past traditions or are endorsed by the present authorities. Criticism, certainly self-criticism, is the antidote that keeps human rational powers from complacency and eventual self-destruction. The ability of a human person to self-critique his or her own processes of thinking enables him or her to go beyond the security of one’s self-assumed domains to those horizons that would await infinite self-discovery as well as unveiling of those inner recesses of reality that can never be fully comprehended by any individual human being.
Philosophy is not a finished product, just as no human science is completely finished once and for all. All human sciences, as they are human, remain open in their searches and researches. They all involve in moving from one level of understanding to another, although at every stage we are tempted to think that we are almost reaching the pinnacle. Some of the thinkers were blinded by their own wishful thinking to such an extent that they dared to propose humanity striking a perfect system of understanding or a theory of everything that would finally enable us to have answers for all questions and problems that humanity confronts! History of human thought is clear enough to disprove all their claims as final. Therefore, my emphasis on what is philosophy or what it should be would incline more towards an activity than a finished product. Philosophy is an ongoing search accompanied by critical and creative reflection on things and events that constitute reality in its totality which would entail a coherent and comprehensive perspective that indents to enhance horizons of reality in a dynamic manner. Philosophy, then, must be concerned with the issues of our private as well as public life, of the bed room and board room, street life as well as the enclosures of privacy, secular claims as well as religious dogmas, freedom of market in a world of globalisation and the international ‘licence to kill’ in the name of fighting terror.
Philosophizing is constitutionally necessary for human mind. As many branches of philosophy would affirm, human mind has its own structure and rules, and its operations are guided by them. These rules, when exercised in a consistent manner, assist us in ascribing meaning and integrity to everything, thus enabling us to evolve a perspective on reality. Then, philosophizing is typically a human activity, a necessary activity at that, through which human beings can continue to operate and discern meaning in everything that is identified as reality. The life experiences of the one who philosophises are very crucial in the whole process. “To self-appropriate one’s own rational consciousness is for the philosopher to discover that the basic philosophic evidence is found, not in any text book, not in any famous work, but only within the philosophizing person.”
Philosophy by and large assumes the task of unravelling all that there is in reality. Its basic attempt is to unravel (aletheia) truth. Along this line, classical understanding of the task of philosophy is to deal with the ultimate questions, and many a philosopher has attempted to answer those questions, apparently with conviction and finality. However, the more they affirmed their answers as if they are the final word on reality, the more they ceased to be philosophers, and the more their answers brought ignominy to them. Why? To my mind, it happened precisely because those philosophers pretended to be having a complete grasp of reality – in its totality – while in actuality they were working only on assumptions that could not be proved. The facts with which they fancied to work on as foundations tended to be mostly unproved assumptions, thus making such facts quite partial and insufficient to deal with reality. I would, therefore, affirm once again that the task of philosophy is not a complete understanding of reality, as if the philosopher would be the one who knows everything (such a being would not exist as a human being). The task of philosophy is only to enable us to have the ability to look at the whole of reality, though we are unable to understand the whole of it, by way of developing a consistent, integral, and meaningful approach to it. It is done by way of developing a perspective that results from continued and repeated look(s) at the reality during one’s lifespan, and such is a philosophy of life in the case of an individual human person.
Such a task on the part of philosophy requires that human being learns the art of standing outside of all that is and all that happens. This distanciation does not entail total neutrality, as it is incapable for any human being; yet, a distanciation will enable us to develop a sense of reflection or contemplation – certainly an involved one – enabling a theory. The theory that I am referring to is one that finally results from the perspective that a philosopher succeeds in cultivating towards the reality. Therefore, even if the philosopher talks about the nature of reality, it need not be a complete picture or final word on the nature of reality, but his or her way of looking at it. As a theory evolves (where concepts are employed) and as it gets more and more consistent, naturally, it would have the look of a system. However, no system of philosophy can claim finality, as every individual human person is capable of and is entitled to have his or her own viewpoint on what reality is. Of course, this viewpoint could be a dynamic one or be taken for a finished product, depending on the mindset of that person. Yet, more the reflection, more the ability to distance oneself, and more the process of abstraction happen, it may enable such persons to attain more of a comprehensive vision of reality, where the differences could either be minimized or overlooked, especially as the totality of reality is unfathomable to humanity. Just as a total comprehension of reality would elude us for ever, a complete grasp of all that constitute human living, such as human understanding, human feelings, human hope, etc., will remain beyond us. Yet, this process should go on and on, as long as human beings continue to exist in this mode, and continue to grasp the reality as best as they can.
Thus, philosophizing is a fundamental aspect of human existence from which no one can escape. Of course, it is possible that some would devote more of their resources for a thorough understanding and articulation which would be signposts for others. As we surf through the history of philosophy and scan through the lives and achievements of our own contemporaries, we come across with many philosophers who could continue to function as signposts that would enable us in furthering the process of philosophizing.
If we succeed in moving from philosophy as a product to philosophy as an act or a process, naturally it opens up new horizons for us. As it would enable me to have a perspective on every thing and every event (including my own life, the lives of others and that of every entity that exists in my world, which is an ever expanding one, as my perspective could reach out), on the one hand, I could go deeper into myself and the others, into the roots of reality and, on the other, surge as high as possible with a sense of transcendence, which together make me more integral and my life and vision more meaningful.
Thus, philosophizing becomes an all encompassing process, as any science or analysis could be brought under it. While, for example, biology as a science would analyse life in its biological dimensions and physics the physical dimensions of the same reality that unify and make such a search possible, to understand reality as meaningful results from my own life vision (my world vision, Weltenschaung). It provides us with an ever vibrant and expanding horizon of life as every search and inquiry would be opening up new vistas of reality, through which our perspective becomes more coherent, integral and meaningful, expectedly paving the way for a new way of living. This new perspective on living would include everything that pertains to reality and life, even from going to grocery shop to global investment on arms and ammunitions, and from religious worship to falling in love.
As philosophy is paradigmatically moved from its traditional domain of a body of knowledge to an activity, to a process, to an ever vibrant and deepening perspective, we need to underline the importance of skills that would equip us to sustain the activity of philosophising. Study of the perspectives that had been prevalent among various peoples through the centuries, especially of those who are said to have achieved a systematic and consistent presentation of their own points of view (as we see in renowned philosophers from history), even if they were not accepted by anyone else in their totality, would familiarise us with the basic requirements of developing a proper perspective or view of life. Thus, the ability not only to look at reality and life from one’s own point of view, but also to get familiarized with the points of view of others, even if they are antithetical to one’s own, should be acquired by a philosopher. Ability to look at the reality, both in an involved and distanced manner, enables us to see through its strengths and weaknesses; moreover, it would enable us not to be emotionally attached to it. As different points of view are squarely looked at and analysed, naturally it paves a better way to see beyond the limited perspective that one adopts; it offers chances to analyse and question and, if needed, to change or transform the point of view that had hitherto been accepted.
4. Why Indigenous Philosophizing?
Many believe that philosophy is a neutral subject, so much so that being a philosopher and involving in any philosophical activity do not have anything to do with this or that concrete thing, person or event. The reason for such a belief is the fact that philosophy is an abstract science. It is assumed that in abstraction we are far removed from the concrete existences and events. However, reading through the undercurrents of philosophical activities which were later systematised by one or other philosopher, it can be verified with a little effort that neither philosophy as such nor a philosopher himself is neutral. Take, for instance, Immanuel Kant’s insistence on the characteristics of universality and necessity of the moral principle, embodied in the categorical imperative. It was impossible for Kant to even accommodate human emotions as having any significance for moral consideration, as it, according to him, would degrade such a decision and the ensuing action into immoral planes. In fact, the a priori principles that Kant had smuggled into human understanding as necessary and universal principles of human intellect were influenced by his infatuation for the definitive validity enjoyed by mathematics and physics. Here, he was convinced of the tenets of Newtonian science as eternal principles, and they were given the value of a priori principles, as they are, according to him, the necessary and universal preconditions of anything to be true. History of physics clearly shows that the Newtonian principles were the scientific conjectures that were facilitated by the a posteriori observations and calculations in a given time and place, which were not at all valid for all times and places to come (i.e., to be reckoned with). Modern science – both at the macro and micro levels of theorizing – has already relativized the truth of Newtonian Mechanics. The arrival of Einstein and later physicists has made it clear that the a priori principles of Newtonian science are not at all necessary and universal.
Does this in a single stroke reduce truth to sheer relativism? Does it overthrow all that has been cherished by generations as definitive and final? Instead of directly tackling these questions, I think the inspiration that we shall draw from the foregoing discussion is simple enough: human understanding and approach to that which is patronized to be truth need not be absolute truth. There are, in fact, many factors that are to be taken into account in evaluating and accommodating what is presented as truth by one or the other philosopher. The limits of human understanding that Kant had taken pains to unravel and establish indicate that the grasp of reality (that any individual human being or a generation of human beings possess at any given point in time) shall be indicative of human inability to grasp truth in its totality. Hence, theories that purport to be true, and sometimes the truth, need not be the final word. Humanity is in a process of understanding, grasping, and appropriating truth. Then, the door of philosophy is not a closed one for one or the other school of thought that had been technically identified as ‘philosophy proper’. For, it is as wide as human thought itself; those who enforce limits on to philosophy, to my mind, have not correctly understood the dynamics and operations of philosophy. For, they continue to look at philosophy as a finished product, mostly showcased by the west; they do seldom understand that philosophy proper refers to the activity of philosophising.
The colonizers of India, probably at one time, thought that they are far superior to the native Indians not only in terms of their military enterprises enforced through manipulative strategies but also in the case of the philosophy that they possessed. It was a time when the west did not even understand that India had a very vibrant past in human thought. Hence, those who initiated and maintained the colonies in India, of course with a few exceptions, affirmed and taught European thought as the human thought, as the philosophy. They could not even concede to the fact that India had a thought of its own, rich in content and diversified in methods, not to mention about the much enlightened and advanced thought it has bequeathed from the forefathers.
Basically there is a wrong approach on the part of western philosophers, including most of the contemporary ones, to classify contributions made by them as philosophy, while those of others, especially if they hail from the industrially developing countries, is not considered as philosophy, as, according to them, the writings of the latter are less rigorous in argumentation and lack the abstraction that traditionally western mindset would look for in philosophy proper. For a good number of them, philosophy still continues to be a finished product, a system into which every neophyte has to immerse. A neophyte would be classified as a philosopher only if he or she would begin to think and articulate along the rules already set by certain schools of thought, which are enthroned as the possible domains of philosophy. Further, when it comes to Indian scene, it is all the more alarming as the classical Vedic and systematic philosophies hailing from the Brahmanic tradition are labelled as theology, closing the gate altogether for any negotiation. All the more disturbing is the condescending attitude that is shown by the native as well as the foreign philosophers towards the classical and modern writings from the subaltern traditions in India and elsewhere. The so-called systematic philosophers, mostly hailing from western academic institutions, tend to think that these native traditions have nothing to offer to the rigorous and logically sound philosophical traditions established over the last three millennia. While their lack of access to the native traditions and writings could be attributed as one of the reasons for this backlash, I think that this situation has resulted largely from the approach entertained in western philosophical schools. As they look for certitude as the final product of a philosophy, every school of thought, and every philosopher who claims to build a system of thought, tend to think that his or her system alone can offer the final truth, all others being only invalid approximations based on assumptions.
Our analysis of what philosophy is in the previous section clearly establishes that human beings can hardly look for philosophy as a final system, but only look for a perspective that gradually emerges in their approach to understand life and reality. The perspective that anyone would build up through a simultaneous rootedness in the context of life and transcendence over everything remains dynamic, with the inherent capacity to incorporate various dimensions of reality as they are experienced and understood in the course of life. Then, every tradition, every place, and every human being is naturally endowed to do philosophizing; it is neither the sole property of the west nor any other set of academicians.
Moreover, philosophizing would be proper and genuine only if it emerges from the living milieu of a human community. Although isolated philosophical developments could be located and are rated to be of high value on the international scene, philosophy becomes vital and effective only if it emerges from the lives that are rooted in a culture or tradition: philosophy has to incarnate. Of course, without degrading the value of distanciation and abstraction in a philosophical enterprise, I hold that a valid philosophy can emerge only when philosophers succeed in incarnating themselves and their thought onto the stark and naked realities of life.
Then, looked at philosophizing from an Indian perspective, I would insist that there is ample scope for indigenous philosophizing. Nay, I should say, there must happen indigenous philosophizing. In fact, I do not imply that we are only starting this process now in the twenty-first century. No. The legacy of our revered forefathers in our land that we have bequeathed from time immemorial, enshrined in the oral and written traditions clearly establish the fact that the process of philosophizing had been happening for long. Moreover, one of the reasons for not putting them into writing, as we find it all through India, could probably be attributed to their vision of philosophy as an always emerging science, through the generations. Also, it gave every chance to the subsequent generations to imprint their share onto a constantly flowing tradition, thus keeping it ever vibrant and open.
Any philosophizing worth its name should be indigenous philosophizing. Treading on the path opened up by the older generations of humanity who have been deepening and widening the avenues of process of philosophizing all through the centuries, now it is our task to carry the baton forward by contributing our own share in opening up new vistas in understanding life and reality.
5. How to Philosophize Indigenously?
As philosophy understood as a finished product as against an ongoing process has done a lot of harm to the whole world of philosophy, it is high time to initiate a therapeutic practice with a view to redeem it in our subcontinent and, in turn, to make the life of all parties involved more integral and meaningful. We need to reinstate philosophy to a new plane of indigenous activity as a result of which it would not fall back again into the ditch of exclusively imported and superfluous philosophical systems that claimed absolute philosophical validity.
Although we live in a globalized era and everyone is heralding the arrival of a global generation where the differences are being brought to the minimum by attempting to annihilate anything that is said to be local, a closer look at the dynamics of human life, especially to the thought patterns that emerge in the course of time, indicates that, despite the mobility of the population to the cities and the captivation of the young minds by the western style of life, everyone is rooted in a particular context. There is nothing called universal; it is only an attitude that we can gradually develop. But even developing such an attitude would basically require that we are founded somewhere, in terms of our physiological, cultural, political, religious, and even intellectual origins. So, to my mind, it is not by neglecting or overthrowing the rootedness of individual human beings into the local that we can develop a global or universal perspective; instead, it has to be firmly rooted in the local; that is where we find the incarnation of every individual human being. If that is the case, we need to address the issue not in terms of developing a universal philosophy, but in terms of identifying the ingredients and the method of philosophizing indigenously. It has to start from the basics.
Primarily, as I have been repeatedly insisting, the lives and their contexts must be focused so much so that the process of philosophizing would start with down to earth experiences of all. Here, we must take extra care not to perpetuate the mistake that we find in history. Every time some one tried to systematise the life experience of the people, only the lives of the people on the top, who have been occupying the creamy layers of the society, in terms of the social hierarchy, in terms of their job opportunities, etc., were considered positively, and all others were simply neglected; the latter, for them, were altogether non-existent. This has to change. Philosophy of a people must primarily come from an integral point of view. As the subaltern traditions, people from the lower strata of the society, the ordinary and common folk were ignored and neglected for long, it is high time that these are given sufficient attention in the new approaches to philosophizing. Although academicians would hardly recognize the perspectives of the subaltern people as worthy of consideration, indigenous philosophising today has to highlight it. For, it is the life vision of all people who have been instrumental in developing a culture and tradition worthy of consideration as we have in India – locally and nationally – that finally there is enough scope for a concerted effort of indigenous philosophizing. I suspect that even the academicians and professional philosophers have been shying away from this task precisely because categorizing the life experiences and life visions of the subaltern would naturally call for different paradigms. To my mind, they would not fit into the patterns of ready-made philosophy that are available to us. Yet, in the contemporary scene of philosophizing, I submit that indigenous philosophizing would be a meaningful exercise, academically or otherwise, only to the extent that we succeed in highlighting the subaltern; for they are the foundation of the society; it is in their lives that a wider vision of reality emerges; it is they who are interacting with inner and outer dimensions and hardest aspects of life and reality.
To be specific, a corrective is needed in our approaches to philosophizing as it happens in India. After the publication of the Vedic literature along with epics and other popular religious literature mostly belonging to or influenced by the Brahmanic tradition placed on top of the social hierarchy of Indian society, a wrong impression was created by many scholars as well as ordinary people that ‘Indian Philosophy’ is equal to Brahmanic philosophy. This impression was shared by a good number of Christian institutes of philosophy, which started to initiate their students into the philosophical literature of the land through their philosophy curriculum. In fact, there was a time when most of the academic institutions in India would just initiate students of Indian philosophy only into the Vedic literature, as if that is the sole source of Indian thought. Times have changed; after the groundbreaking social assertion of the Dalits, initiated by the courageous decision of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the subaltern perspectives have been increasingly heard. Although initially there was not much of literature available in the writing, steps have been taken to supplement it by many governmental and non-governmental agencies. Here, I should specially appreciate the scholarly support extended by the new generation Christian missionaries from among the sons of the soil to the cause of the subaltern in making them heard and felt in terms of their rich heritage and tradition, which I would project as an alternative and meaningful model of philosophizing.
Let me make myself clear: although I recognize the historical mistake made by the previous generation in wrongly identifying and insisting that the Brahmanic tradition is the Indian tradition of philosophizing, and although the same tradition had been at the foundation of the oppressive social structures that kept the subaltern to their inhuman states of existence through unjust means, what I call for in attempting to philosophize today in the Indian scene is by way of an integration of all available traditions, if they have been instrumental in shaping our life vision in the course of time. At both extremes parties have to give up their facades and recognize the truth in each other’s traditions, even if they are placed in opposite camps. The wealth of our traditions should not be lost sight of on partisan political pulls. As a philosopher is in search of the truth that would orientate him or her in formulating an integral life vision and a meaningful perspective on life, which we identify as the activity of philosophizing, naturally, I hold that we need to keep ourselves open to the truth. Such an integral approach, I believe, will usher in a therapeutic practice of philosophizing in India.
In our search to identify the crystallization of the vibrant and living philosophy that has been bequeathed to us, we need to recognize the value of the literary works in all Indian traditions. It is essential for the indigenous philosophising to take the literatures of various sections of society seriously. The literary contributions, whether of the local or national stature, bring out the reflections made by various individuals on their lives from multifarious perspectives. Though all of them cannot be judged to be objectively true, as many dispassionate intellectuals would claim, all of them would give us a chance to peep into the reality through their goggles.
Moreover, poetry and other fine arts should also become part of philosophizing as they are part of the structure of life and reality. They enable us to view reality from the point of imagination. In fact, in them, there is an act of philosophising carried out by the poet and the artist in order to bring out different dimensions of reality in a subtle manner. Any poetry, for example, will put across the perspective adopted by the poet, although sometimes it would be difficult to make it out by an untrained mind.
At this stage, I must insist that the task of philosophy also includes criticism (self-criticism as well as other-criticism), philosophizing shall not end up merely in accommodating and justifying anything that goes on the society. Every human being by virtue of being a philosopher should be capable of critically looking at various ingredients of contemporary life and should be able to put them in an integral and meaningful perspective. If there are certain aspects of the present social life, or to be specific in the life of an individual, that does not fit in integrally with the rest, and vitiates the meaning that should emerge in life, it shall be the bounden duty of the philosopher – that is, me and you – to identify it, challenge it, and finally give it up. It is in such a way that the ongoing transformation of the view of life or the perspective on life would remain dynamic and vibrant one. It is in this sense that philosophy would emerge as a living science, a science of life that would be the closest to human lives than any other science.
Generally speaking, human beings are complacent in the context of their living and have a tendency to cater to and justify the status quo. Though it happens due to our natural tendency to be comfortable with the given, it may happen that some vested interests would try to insist on the maintenance of the status quo, as there would be certain benefits that would accrue to them. In such contexts, it shall be the responsibility of those human beings who are capable of involving in the critical thinking to function as an antidote to this tendency. This is very much needed in the Indian society, especially because people from the margins who are incapacitated by the system to make their voices heard cannot do anything on their own. It is not because of their lack of realization, but because of the brutal powers of certain social systems. In such contexts, philosophy shall take the lead to make them conscious of what the marginalised are missing as the status quo is maintained, and how could they affirm themselves to get their dues as human beings and as members of a society. It may be colonization of the foreign powers on a politically subdued people, social stratification resulting from certain religious injunctions, or a particular form of government in which external powers dictate terms and conditions as it happens in practising globalisation in India; wherever there is injustice and subduing of humanity, it shall be human ability to critically think that shall come to our rescue. It may start with a few critically conscious philosophers who become acutely aware of those inhuman situations and practices; it shall be their turn to conscientize the rest of the society, and enable them from within to fight against the status quo and to establish another mode of living in which the human spirit is respected, supported, and protected.
As the modern era is increasingly influenced by the communication media and the information technology, and as the lives of today’s youth are being transformed by their exposure to a wider world of pluralistic import, any attempt to philosophize should give them a serious consideration, so that philosophizing would be rooted in the present context. Critical philosophizing must be aware of all that is presented to the society by one or the other agency. For example, the media has come of age, as a result of which programmes are telecasted and broadcasted round the clock. Most of the programmes have got a commercial intent; then, market forces do dictate the content, timing, and even the investment. Added to this, there are also other motives such as selling of ideology, manipulation of public opinion, justification for one or the other national or international issue of choice, etc., that would dictate the media projections. It is here the critical philosophizing ability of the ordinary public, and especially of the professionally trained one that should come to the rescue of life. While one agency would try to sell its perspective, with a view to enhance either its market value or ideological base, those who are at the receiving end should approach the media productions cautiously. The critical spirit along with a creative sense should empower the parties to evolve an integral and meaningful perspective on media events. This could be facilitated only by a philosophy that should be catered to in a gradual manner, whereby every individual would enabled to critically analyse the reality that he or she is exposed to, and thus decide which all elements shall be incorporated into their world vision, and which all aspects must be set aside for building up a meaningful human life. In this sense, philosophizing as an activity would be a vital science that can empower and propel individuals as well as communities on to the new horizons without being endangered by the flux of the market and other destabilising agencies.
6. Doing Philosophy at Christian Institutes in India
From a professional point of view, a university in general, is the nurturing ground of philosophy and culture, although our present day university education seems to have lost its direction as it has become a prey to the pressures of market economy. Yet, an institute of philosophy, in particular, if functions on the right track, can bring together learning to philosophize (that would include teaching and research into various realms of philosophy) and evolution of a culture. Although the insistence on professional standards shall not be sacrificed in a university’s training process, there must co-exist a healthy exchange between philosophizing and culturing. While philosophical perspectives learned and perfected would gradually influence the evolution of a culture, cultural practices and patterns would take our philosophising to new domains, paving the way for a constant upgrading of both. Thus, ideally speaking, an institute of philosophy has to become the nurturing ground of persons into holistic personalities who are capable of both making the best out of the lore of knowledge that we have bequeathed from history, but at the same time surging ahead with creativity and dynamism, designing an integral and meaningful way of life for all. So, a university or an institute of philosophy makes its existence felt meaningfully, when it becomes a catalyst in the life of the people of a nation, helping them to cultivate proper character and culture through animating them in the formation of an integral and meaningful view of life, a valid perspective on life.
Doing philosophy as an academic discipline, especially under a university programme, involves teaching and learning processes. In the common parlance, to begin with, there are many ways of learning, of which three shall be brought to focus for our present purpose. Some students simply do the parroting; they bye-heart everything they are taught, or at least a part of it. Their success would depend upon their ability to bring it back in the same form, without having made any difference. A good part of our educational system was functioning along this line, philosophical education being no exception, even in centres of higher learning. A higher type of learning, which is very essential for any type of education, especially in the areas of research, is analytical approach. Nothing shall be taken as it is presented by any system or person; whatever is presented is subjected to a detailed analysis, with the expectation that truth would be brought out clearly. In fact, analytical thinking enables scholars to actually grapple with the knowledge in a proactive manner. The third type of learning, which is basically built upon the second one, is critical thinking. In fact, without the first, the second would be impossible; if done otherwise, it would be baseless and, hence, meaningless. A healthy combination of analytical and critical learning would be the most creative mode of learning. Whoever succeeds in this integral mode of learning will be qualified to be addressed a philosopher, even if he or she does not do academic philosophy but is concerned about some other dimensions of scientific investigation. Philosophizing as a process of learning, as a humane investigation, needs to be involving both analytical and critical aspects. While the first would supply the basic substratum for philosophical investigation, the latter would contribute the proper philosophical form. For, a critical angle is essential for doing any philosophy; if it is lacking, no investigation would be qualified to be philosophical.
An interesting expression in this regard is ‘inceptual’ thinking; it refers to every act of thinking as a fresh start, in which the presuppositions are challenged or questioned incessantly, whereby, a philosopher will not settle happily with anything but truth. It involves a tedious task, as the investigation proceeds without a definitive framework. Approaching philosophy from an institutionalized perspective, it would cease to be philosophizing proper, as inceptual thinking would cease to happen. If inceptual thinking could be facilitated, it would open up the avenues of philosophy to the horizons that lie beyond the grasp of any system, as human ingenuity and the world have got more than any system can conceive and deliver, and any structure can crystallise once and for all. Only a creative human mind, in its constant interaction with the reality (in the context) can facilitate the gradual un-covering or dis-covering (aletheia, according to the Greek tradition which is reintroduced by Heidegger himself) of those dimensions of reality that are yet to be brought to our focus.
Many a time we lack interest and involvement, the basic ingredients to do philosophy, although we consider that our human vocation is fundamentally a vocation to philosophizing. The lack of interest, to my mind, results from our inability to observe what is going on in and around our own lives, in various areas of human search and research; that is, it results from our lack of involvement. If we are involved and interested, we cannot but be concerned about the problems and issues that crop up then and there, in our lives or in the lives of others.
From an academic point of view, if we take other intellectual disciplines, there is ample scope to get involved in philosophizing; they do provide plenty of stimuli.
Science throws up discoveries, politics throws up confrontations, mathematics throws up inconsistencies, and the constant drip of human credulity throws up a constant stream of more or less unlikely ideas… These are the stimuli… [T]hese generate the atmosphere in which human reflection will take place, and we have no idea what our successors will breathe in, nor how they will learn to respond.
All these ingredients – both personal and scientific – are to be seriously taken into consideration in order that a creative effort ensues in the teaching and learning the process of philosophizing.
By and large, there is too little interest in learning history of philosophy and systems of philosophy among the students who do bachelor’s or master’s programme in philosophy at various Christian (mostly Catholic) institutes of philosophy across India. As many of the history of philosophy lessons tend to showcase what had been happening in the world of thought through potted histories, mostly from a western point of view, but of course, of late, interspersed with what had been happening indigenously, the interest wanes quite quickly than many teachers would expect. Often we hear the complaint that a discourse on what the age old philosophers had been attempting in olden times, that too in a language that is far removed from ours and without having any significance to the contemporary concerns is good enough for the archives, but not for the throbbing young minds of the 21st century. Although a good number of teachers are quite good in instructing students in historical developments, very seldom do they succeed in eliciting genuine interest in philosophy. I quote a short passage from the preface of a book on introduction to philosophy:
Many people come to philosophy with the false impression that it is merely a body of knowledge. They expect to receive information rather than to think for themselves. They often assume they know the answers to questions philosophers want to reopen in a fresh way. Thus philosophers often complain that their students are neither motivated nor ready to grapple with the material used in introductory courses.
As we look at the process of learning and teaching philosophy in professional or academic institutions, where most serious persuasion of philosophy happens in our modern times, our approach requires a thorough transformation. A paradigm shift itself is called forth. In fact, instructing students in philosophy cannot be really done by way of introducing them to a body of knowledge, as no one could possibly be equipped with everything under the sun identified as philosophy. For, knowing everything is impossible, both for the teacher and for the pupil; it is impossible for any given human being – whether taken as individual or group. In such a context, however, having an integral and meaningful perspective on all that we can know, all that exists, and that would come forth is possible for a human being, and it is this ability of human beings that I call philosophy. The shift is, again, from a body of ready-made solutions in philosophy understood as a finished system of thought to a process of approaching life and reality with an integral and meaningful perspective. If academic institutions and professional courses are ready to make this change, we could expect a better generation of human beings who would be philosophers through and through in the near future; it need not necessarily be the best of the people technically equipped with all the theorems, but would be capable of approaching them with openness and sagacity of mind.
When we study philosophy, through a process of memorization, as it usually happens in studying a particular philosopher or school of philosophy, such as Plato or Kant, we only try to incorporate it within our memory – it is only a storing process. Whatever is stored up in the memory will be used by way of just bringing it out whenever required (e.g., during an examination). However, a proper method of studying philosophy should go a long way from mere memorization to a process of philosophizing. This will be facilitated or assisted by the data stored up in memory; but it is much more than that, not only quantitatively, but qualitatively: the process of philosophising involves a strategic employment of the data acquired from other philosophers – both in terms of the content and method of their philosophy – in relation to the context and life of the person, who now begins (not merely to reproduce what others have said) to creatively respond to his or her life in context and all that he or she encounters.
Professional philosophy is like a garden: in a garden there are any number of plants and flowers. A visitor to the garden need not be interested in everything; she may just be happy with the rose garden, or sometimes only a particular type of rose, or any other plant variety; some of them would not bother about the immense labour that has gone into the plant that bears a beautiful flower or tasty fruit. However, a gardener or someone who wants to learn gardening cannot restrict to one or the other, as a visitor would be justified in doing. If the gardener were to pick up the art of gardening, he or she needs to acquire a general understanding of varied plants, their nature, the technique of tending to them, and the art of planting various plants in such a way that all of them would flourish and blossom side by side. An average human being who is interested in philosophizing within his or her living ambience, it may be enough that he or she is happy with one or the other element of philosophy, that is picked up in terms of one’s natural taste (as humanity is naturally endowed with the ability to think or reason). However, someone who wants to learn the art of philosophizing, that too with an eye on professional competence in dealing with human thought, cannot be satisfied with one or the other element. He or she needs to approach the whole of philosophy as any gardener or student of gardening would approach various aspects of a garden. It needs a holistic approach, lest the gardening would be incomplete and hence would lack any comprehensive picture. Professionally trained philosophers need not only a peripheral introduction to one or the other school of philosophy or one or the other part of the history of philosophy. A comprehensive understanding of human thought and its dynamics, which is essential in formulating one’s own thinking or reasoning that leads to a proper and firm perspective on life and reality can emerge only in those who acquire a comprehensive understanding of both history of philosophy and various systems of philosophy.
Being realistic with regard to the programme of philosophy offered by the Christian institutes, we should concede to the fact that it is done in view of theology. As Christian theologies have been developed on firm philosophical foundations, the authorities of the Catholic Church, especially, have insisted that all students of theology should undergo basic training in philosophical speculation. The programme of study that has been formulated by the concerned authorities insists that a full-scale introduction to history of philosophy and systems of philosophy, with their foundations on the teachings of the perennial philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, must be offered spread out at least during a period of two years. The whole programme is indented to enable the students to imbibe the Christian view of life – on world, man, and God. There are two things to be considered in this context: one negative and the other positive.
As most of the students in Christian institutes of philosophy inscribe for the programme not out of their own interest, but only out of a necessity to do theology, or only to get ordained as ministers of the Church, seldom do they have any genuine interest in doing philosophy. As a teacher of philosophy at such an institute for last 14 years, I have come to call it the internal curse of our faculty of philosophy. For, when more than 90% students do not have any interest and serious involvement in an academic programme, due to external reasons, the teaching-learning process becomes quite tough, and many a time, apparently, absolutely fruitless. This negative dimension of lack of interest and involvement on the part of the students could be circumscribed through proactive programmes, whereby, I believe interest could be elicited. What is primarily called for, especially from the teaching faculty, is to look for alternative mechanisms whereby the students (who have come to the institute not on their own but out of other external pressures) could be motivated in scientifically learning philosophy. I tend to think that the present emphasis on instructing students on philosophy as a system, as a finished product, must be rectified, at least partially, so that more room could be provided to understand it as a process, and to enable students in partaking in that process. Thus, we need to make a paradigm shift from teaching philosophy to learning the art of philosophizing.
Positively, though students attend courses in philosophy out of compulsion, over a two year period, they are forced to listen to the theories of various philosophers, and are introduced to systems of human thought categorized into various schools. As they are bombarded with philosophical theories during this period, even if they do not want, due to the examinations, they come to know some of these theories, at least peripherally. These theories, or bits of philosophical wisdom, would eventually transform their thought patterns, as I have clearly observed among my students. Even if in some cases students may elicit more interest in theories that go counter to the “Christian view” (e.g., some of the students even losing their faith in God, incarnation, religion, etc., in the course of their philosophical studies), neutrally looking at the whole process, I find that they succeed in developing a view of life and reality on their own, better than their peers do without this compulsory philosophical training.
In fact, the training programme that is bifurcated in terms of philosophy and theology, as per the design of the authorities of the Catholic Church, should be reconsidered into a single unit. Although many theologians would resist what I suggest now, I am convinced of it. That is, theology is basically philosophy. The only difference between professional philosophy and theology is that the latter has a perspective on life and reality basically infused by faith in Jesus Christ as revealed in history and continued by the Church in our times. As theology is also a perspective on life and reality, it is fundamentally philosophy. From this point of view, I would suggest that we need to have an integral approach to philosophy and theology, at least as far as the Christian institutes of higher learning are concerned. Instead of separating philosophy and theology as two water-tight compartments, between which there is hardly any direct interaction, especially when it comes to the programme of training, we need to evolve a new strategy. It would take into account that the target of the academic training in philosophy and theology is basically the same, that is, to enable the young minds into gradually developing a view of life and reality designed on the foundation of Christian revelation and faith. The integral approach that we could initiate would settle a lot of issues that crop up today in the institutes of philosophy, basically from the ongoing questioning of the relevance of a programme of philosophy.
Whether philosophy or theology, the training programme imparted in such Christian institutes is primarily indenting, as I conceive it, to instil in the young minds, who aspire to be the ministers of the Word, the basic ingredients that are necessary for the development of a view of life or a perspective that would be conducive to carry out the task that they would assume in future. As it is impossible for any human being to be abreast with the whole of knowledge, what is feasible for the minister of the Word is to develop an integral and meaningful perspective on life, which would enable him to approach the complexities of life – his own and those of others – in such a way that he could function like a lighthouse in the lives of the people who sail through the sea of life. Just as the lighthouse gives a direction to the seafarers, a minister of the Word has a responsibility ensuing from his vocation to be equipped with a Coherent Christian view of life. In order to facilitate this, he needs to be well-versed in the dynamics of life, in the view of life and reality that people have developed in the course of human civilization, a clear grasp of the problems that would crop up when they tread on the wrong path and develop mistaken perspectives. All these could be done well if he takes to himself the opportunities offered to him in the philosophical and theological programme. So, the training in human thought is not for the sake of learning the rules of logic for its own sake, not learning history of philosophy or various systems of philosophy for the sake of philosophy, but for the sake of equipping ourselves in the ministry of the Word.
If we look at the whole as part of a professional training, there is a lot of sense in the programme of philosophy. The minister of the Word is considered to be a professional: not to market commodities or services made available by one or the other company, but to share the Word of God to all who are either entrusted to his care or all those with whom he comes in contact all through his life. The professionalism that should be part of the life of the minister of the Word must be seen in his sagacity and mastery over the view of life or perspective imbued with the spirit of the Word. Such professionalism would require expertise on life and its dynamics, understanding of technical aspects of human thought and its development, along with the experience of the power of the Word of God. All these ingredients, when integrated meaningfully in the life of a minister of the Word of God, he would be a philosopher par excellence; his view of life and reality, his perspective, a Christian perspective in its core will be visible to everyone. Moreover, a minister of the Word who is equipped with such a view of life, backed up with the required technical know-how will be in a position to offer his service to all those who wish to develop a healthy and meaningful view of life for themselves along the line that he has successfully established for himself.
I submit that this perspective must be maintained both in teaching and learning philosophy and theology at Christian institutes. We need to re-orientate the programme in such a way that the students would benefit out of the programme, not merely in equipping themselves in technical theories of philosophy and theology, but in enabling and empowering them to develop their own Christian view of life. If done, once these students who fly out to their own respective field of ministry would continue to exercise their task for the Word without any anxiety – both on their part and on the part of those who impart training to them. This proactive strategy, I believe, will create a healthy ambience for study and research in all institutes of philosophy and theology.
Surprisingly, many of the would-be-ministers of the Word of God keep themselves aloof both from the real meaning and implications of the Word and the context of their ministry identified in terms of the people whom they would reach out in the course of time. Many a time the training of the ministers is done in a vacuum – a philosophical vacuum, a theological vacuum, and ministerial vacuum, which is fundamentally a vacuum experienced as human. We need to develop a method of bringing the life of the people into the philosophical and theological training. What I suggest is not to give up academic training and to be with the people all the time; we need to continue academic training; nay it must be made as rigorous as possible. Yet, we need to design it in such a way that the real life would be made available both to the teacher and to the student so as to bring the whole training into the down-to-earth reality.
A lot has been already done in terms of contextualized philosophy and theology. Unfortunately, however, in the name of contextualizing, many institutions deprive students of the chance to get to know various theories properly. As the number of contextualized institutions has gone up, there are not enough qualified personnel, who are really equipped to instruct students in philosophy and theology. Then, they look for shortcuts and alternatives, the end result of which is the fact that students lack a proper grasp of various theories on human thought and life, so also their initiation into the Christian view of life or perspective is insufficient.
If doing philosophy would involve confronting one’s own life with all its intricacies, ‘its assumptions and beliefs, motives and fears, favourite clichés and intellectual strategies, insights and blind spots’, with a hope to bring about better integration and meaning into the lives of all involved, then naturally planning and executing a programme in philosophy at various Christina institutes in India call for a thorough planning by taking into account the complex realities of time and place. No institute of philosophy can instruct its wards to philosophise in a vacuum. For, it is life that is the primary datum of philosophy. Although abstraction and distantiation are essential requirements of doing philosophy, total neglect of the vital areas of life and reality would practically make the programme a castrated one. Apart from making room for bringing into focus the best of life in a society, philosophising would demand an equal, if not sharper, focussing on the blind spots and negative approaches to life, so as to enable those who involve in philosophical reflection to move ahead in a transformed manner: genuine philosophising would never leave life and reality as it is; it would engender transformation, as philosophising cannot leave its substratum the same. The view of life or the perspective that a particular person imbibes will definitely make room for further changes in outlook and the understanding of reality.
From this point of view, Christian institutes of philosophy, like Satyanilayam (Chennai) or Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram (Bangalore), have a responsibility to make an integration of history of philosophy and systems of philosophy (from a wider perspective) with various elements from our own culture (giving emphasis to the local, national, and international culture, keeping the order of priority) with its firm foundation on the Word of God, which together would give rise to a new perspective on life among its students.
Philosophizing is the most characteristic human activity in which every human being can partake. Even when it is brought to the dissecting table of academicians and the synthetic activity of the system builders, we should be careful to retain its dynamic character, which can never be restricted to any limits set by one or the other human being or system.
As we do involve in the activity of philosophizing in the Indian context, it is essential that we take seriously the matrix of life within which life and reality unfold in front of us. Although the lore of knowledge that humanity has bequeathed is the patrimony of all of us, without a distinction in terms of east or west, south or north, philosophizing processes must be firmly rooted in the cultural ethos of the people by whom and with whom the indented view of life and reality is evolving. We shall not look for the last word in philosophy, as long as we subscribe to philosophizing as a process. It is an ongoing search within which all human persons would participate. What has already been established by the foregone generations would remain as the bedrock of what we are trying to establish. In the name of indigenous philosophizing, I am not calling for the demolition of all that has already happened in philosophizing; though all that may not be immediately relevant for our generation and our problems, what they have achieved amounts to a yeomen service to human thought and reflection. Keeping the torch of human reflection in relation to our living, we have to surge ahead, to keep the track widened and deepened so that our future generations could carry it further forward. The road of philosophizing is open-ended as long as humanity does not lose its sensitivity to humane nature and as far as the future of humanity remains dynamic and vibrant.
Havi Carel and David Gamez, eds., “Political Philosophy: Introduction,” What Philosophy Is: Contemporary Philosophy in Action, London: Continuum, 2004, 7.
These expressions are articulated here to propose a corrective to what we generally understand as philosophy, which I think will give us a better edge to philosophize along the line of thought that I try to develop in this essay.
The present discussion on dogmatism shall not be confused with any dogma of the Catholic Church. Though I consider dogmatism as an evil in philosophy, formulation of a dogma in the Catholic Church is a welcome step, especially because such a formulation pertains to the collective faith of the community of believers in Jesus Christ. While individual believers are endowed with the ability to understand the truth, revealed in Jesus Christ, it is highly probable that one or the other may not be able to assent to the faith content in the same manner (especially among the neophytes), that too when a faith assertion takes the form of a formal religious tenet. As Catholic faith affirmation as well as faith-living is a collective affair of a community that has been foundationally constituted by individual affirmations of faith, a dogmatic formulation would certainly help clarify and affirm the same faith content by all who come under the same banner. When this formulation is carried out by the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, mostly exercised in the context of collegiality, it is an exercise based on the faith affirmations of the faithful, and, therefore, it is philosophically sound and meaningful.
Scanning through the history of human thought gives us ample indicators that during those periods when traditions and authorities were absolutized philosophic activities were at the minimal. In fact, there were persistent and concerted attempts on the part of those in authority to root out human ability to reflect and to open up new avenues to life and reality; however, as philosophizing is an inherent capacity of humanity, almost all have failed in eliminating it altogether. No power has succeeded so far to put an end to humanity onward surge in thinking and reflecting; hence, philosophizing would go on for the good of humanity, even if it were to be interspersed with minimal activity, depending on the highhandedness that tradition and authority would gain due to the temporary swings of human spirit in one or the other temporal or spatial sphere.
See, for example, Saju Chackalackal, Stephen Hawking’s Quest for a Theory of Everything, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 2000.
W. A. Stewart, Introduction to Lonergan’s Insight: An Invitation to Philosophize, Studies in the History of Philosophy, vol. 41, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1996, 49.
Writes Havi Carel and David Gamez in What Philosophy Is: “A man and a woman set out to discover philosophy. As the years go by, they wander through the lands and ask the strangers that they meet: ‘What is this wisdom you call philosophy?’ ‘How is philosophy practiced in this place?’ ‘Why do you do philosophy?’ A short time before they die, they discover that the patient labyrinth of lines that they have gathered trace the lineaments of their politics, their science, their country, their way of thinking, their culture, their wellbeing, their profession and their limitations.” Carel and Gamez, eds., What Philosophy Is, 1.
“Had Kant lived to see the physics and mathematics of our day he might very well have abandoned the philosophy of the synthetic a priori. So let us regard his books as documents of their time, as the attempt to appease his hunger for certainty by his belief in the physics of Newton. In fact, Kant’s philosophical system must be conceived as an ideological superstructure erected on the foundations of a physics modeled for an absolute space, an absolute time, and an absolute determinism of nature. This origin explains the system’s success and its failure, explains why Kant has been regarded by so many as the greatest philosopher of all time, and why his philosophy has nothing to say to us who are witnesses of the physics of Einstein and Bohr.” Reichenbach, The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1951, 44.
It is said that even Max Mueller, who is said to have taken pains to collect and translate the scattered texts of the Vedas, initially understood them to be texts exclusively used for performing rituals. This was the initial picture of the Indian Vedic texts that was passed on to the European scholars. It was after a long time of native research and interpretation that the Vedic texts were understood as records of highly developed human urges, far superior to many texts from other cultures.
Just as there is a ‘BBC World’, there is also a ‘CNN World’ and ‘India Vision’. Though these captions may overtly seem to be innocent, these and other news channels that we watch on a regular basis try to instil among the viewers a particular viewpoint which would support the policies adopted by their share holders or stake holders and other funding agencies. It may be noted that the CNN channel is available worldwide. Interestingly, while most of the channels charge a regular fee, CNN is made available free of cost. If we critically reflect about the reason, it is obviously the American interest to slowly but steadily inform the world audience about their policies, strategies and their justifications, from an American point of view.
While dogmatism is considered to be the arch-enemy of philosophy, understood as an activity or ongoing process, critical thinking could be projected as the breath and being of philosophy proper.
See Brad Bannon, The Quest for Postmodern Ethics: A Phenomenological Comparison of Heidegger and Aurobindo, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 2007, 2 ff.
Simon Blackburn, “Foreword,” in What Philosophy Is, eds. Carel and Gamez, xvii-xviii.
Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin, Wisdom without Answers: A Brief Introduction to Philosophy, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2002, xi.
A Malayalam expression, manasilakuka (contrasted with ormikkuka, meaning to remember) simply does not mean memorizing, but to let an idea or information to be creatively processed by the mind, whereby it becomes internalized to such an extent that it would form part of the very thinking process of the person who has acquired it. This facilitates an extensive but dynamic process to enable the person to be proactive in the given context.
Sapientia Christiana, Article 79, 1
Gone are the days when the priest was the centre of life in a village; he used to be all-in-all, and needed to know solution to every problem that the villagers faced. Indeed, in the good old times, he was the only educated one around. All these have changed now, thanks to the education that Christian missionaries have opened up to the people. The need of the hour, as it is expected from a minister of the Word, is not to give answers to the questions; there are plenty of experts who can do it better than the minister. Yet, the task of the minister of the Word is still relevant in terms of inspiring the people around in organically developing an integral and meaningful view of life which would be thoroughly Christian in its content and form.